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People who constantly obsess over questions like
'What is art?'
'What is music?'
obviously need help; and they can get it in the form of multi-year treatment programs which combine personal counseling with group therapy sessions. Although such treatment programs (known as
graduate programs in philosophy
) offer no cure, they teach participants a variety of effective strategies for coping with their debilitating obsessive disorder. Those who complete such treatment programs tend to remain in institutional environments (known as
), where they earn a modest income by sharing their difficult experiences with young men and women (known as
) in weekly encounter groups (known as
introductory philosophy courses
). The social utility of this arrangement is undeniable, if only because it gives many young people an early opportunity to recognize the life-wasting potential of questions that are exceedingly general, hopelessly vague, and of no discernible promise to our quest for knowledge.
Sarcastic and decidedly unfriendly, this view of big questions (and of professional "wisdom lovers" who obsess with them) is held by many people, which should not be surprising since the view is largely correct. I didn't say 'entirely correct' because there are rare exceptions when big questions -- e.g., about space, time, determinism, causality, infinity, proof, truth -- are motivated not by idle speculations, but by deep theoretical problems in science and mathematics.
In such cases, the answers -- if possible at all, and even if incomplete and to some extent provisional -- are mathematically precise, empirically meaningful (in science), and often of great aesthetic appeal to those who understand them. Only these answers
come from professional philosophers, but always from scientists and mathematicians, albeit those with a pronounced affinity for conceptual analysis.
In the mean time philosophers continue to pride themselves on being good at asking big questions. That they are. But being good at asking questions is like being good at foreplay: if that's
you're good at, you shouldn't be surprised when those on the receiving end of your talents regard you with frustration and disappointment bordering on contempt.
1 year ago
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